Bush's condescending message to Iraq.

Bush's condescending message to Iraq.

Bush's condescending message to Iraq.

Watching the war.
April 10 2003 6:57 PM

The Soft Bigotry of Loose Adulation

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Compare this to the number of people Saddam has killed at home and abroad. According to the Federation of American Scientists, in the Iran-Iraq War, which Saddam started, "[E]stimates suggest more than one and a half million war and war-related casualties. … Iran's losses may have included more than 1 million people killed or maimed. The war claimed at least 300,000 Iranian lives." HRW says Saddam's slaughter of the Kurds included "the mass murder and disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants—50,000 by the most conservative estimate," and "the use of chemical weapons against non-combatants in dozens of locations, killing thousands." Then there was the invasion of Kuwait, and the annihilation of Shiites in Iraq's southern marshes. According to HRW, "Numbering some 250,000 people as recently as 1991, the Marsh Arabs today are believed to number fewer than 40,000 in their ancestral homeland. Many have been arrested, 'disappeared,' or executed." As for Saddam's current kill rate, HRW reports, "It is not possible to determine with certainty the number of people executed by law or government order in Iraq each year. For the past two decades and with depressing regularity, the reported figures for those executed have run into the hundreds each year and, in some years, have reached several thousand."


Simply put, the number of innocent people who are dead because we ousted Saddam is dwarfed by the number of innocent people who are dead because we didn't. The use of American force is on one side of the ledger, and mass killing is on the other. Trends in military and media technology make this dilemma increasingly likely where belligerent murderers rule. You can keep your hands clean, or you can keep many more people alive. It's up to you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

1:50 p.m.: Here's what George W. Bush and Tony Blair promised at their news conference in Northern Ireland today. First, we're going to get out of Iraq so that Iraqis can govern themselves. Second, we're going to stay in Iraq so that Iraqis can govern themselves.

"It's important for the Iraqi people to continue to hear this message," said Bush. "We will not stop until they are free. Saddam Hussein will be gone. … We're not leaving. And not only that; they need to hear the message that we're not leaving after he's gone—until they are ready to run their own government. I hear a lot of talk here about how we're going to impose this leader or that leader. Forget it. From day one, we have said the Iraqi people are capable of running their own country."

If this position confuses you—they can run the country, but we aren't leaving—join the club. Bush, too, looks confused. He's a black-and-white guy. He likes to talk about good and evil, freedom and tyranny, principles and focus groups. When these things come together in the same person or idea, he gets flummoxed. In postwar Iraq, he's up against a paradox. Freedom requires us to get out. And yet, for a time, freedom requires us to stay.

The get-out part is obvious. The tricky part is understanding why and how long we have to stay. The first reason is to stamp out the bad guys. Bush noted that in Basra, "The presence of the Royal Marines is providing enough comfort for people to begin to express their own opinions. They're beginning to realize freedom is real." Iraqis aren't going to breathe easier just because Saddam's loyalists dumped their boots and hid their guns. They need assurance that the bad guys won't regain power. The good guys have to stay long enough to provide that assurance.

The second reason is to establish order. Eight weeks ago, Bush recalled that after World War II, "We did not leave behind occupying armies. We left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom." Freedom isn't the absence of rules. It depends on rules. Without rules, new tyrants grab power. Constitutions lay down those rules, parliaments clarify them, and armed officers enforce them. No arms, no enforcement, no rules, no freedom.

I've been digging up famous quotes about wolves lately, so here's another. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln observed, "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty." From the sheep's point of view, the trick is to keep the shepherd around long enough to get rid of the wolf but not so long that the shepherd starts to see you as a mutton chop.

How long should our troops stay? Here a negativist answer: Freedom survives where power is checked. The job of American and British troops is to make sure Saddam's thugs are gone. The job of the United Nations is to make sure American and British troops are gone. And the job of the Iraqi people is to set up institutions stable enough to convince all of us that we can get out without having to go back in. If Bush's neocons or Blair's neoliberals hold out for anything better than that, things can get much, much worse.

Monday, April 7, 2003